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John Ashbery

John Ashbery

b. 1927

A native of Rochester, New York, John Ashbery (b. 1927) is the prolific author of twenty three volumes of poetry, plus fiction, plays and criticism. He is the recipient of numerous literary awards,...
Elizabeth Bishop

Elizabeth Bishop

b. 1911 d. 1979

Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979) at the time of her death was respected as a "writer's writer" on account of her technical mastery and exemplary patience and dedication to her craft. Since then her...
Louise Bogan

Louise Bogan

b. 1897 d. 1970

Born in Maine in 1897, Louise Bogan was the daughter of a mill worker and a mentally and emotionally unstable mother. Her childhood was restless: as the Bogans moved from one New England town to the...
Gwendolyn Brooks

Gwendolyn Brooks

b. 1917 d. 2000

Gwendolyn Brooks grew up in Chicago in a poor yet stable and loving family. Her father was a janitor who had hoped to become a doctor; her mother a teacher and classically trained pianist. Brooks was...
Dan Burt

Dan Burt

b. 1942

Dan Burt's poems offer the reader a dual perspective on American culture, drawing on the poet's personal experience of being both an insider and an outsider. The son of Jewish immigrants, Burt grew...
Hayden Carruth

Hayden Carruth

b. 1921 d. 2008

Hayden Carruth was born in 1921, in Waterbury, Connecticut, and educated at both the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Chicago where he gained an MA. After serving in...
Amy Clampitt

Amy Clampitt

b. 1920 d. 1994

Amy Clampitt was born in Iowa in 1920 and grew up on the 300-acre farm owned by her Quaker grandparents in New Providence. She spent much of her childhood exploring the countryside which, coupled...
Billy Collins

Billy Collins

b. 1941

Billy Collins (b. 1941) is a genuinely popular poet whose books have sold over 200,000 copies since the appearance of his first collection, Pokerface, in 1977. Born in New York City he attended the...
E. E. Cummings

E. E. Cummings

b. 1894 d. 1962

E. E. Cummings (1894-1962) was born and brought up in Cambridge Massachusetts, and is remembered above all for his startling innovations in syntax and typography. His early experiments in poetry...
Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson

b. 1830 d. 1886

Only seven of Emily Dickinson's poems were published in her lifetime; these were heavily edited. Many of the rest were found after her death, in little packets bound together to make small books....
Rita Dove

Rita Dove

b. 1952

Rita Dove (b. 1952) was encouraged by her parents to read widely from a young age and she explored all that the local library in Akron, Ohio, had to offer. Dove went on to study English at Miami...
W.E.B. DuBois

W. E. B. DuBois

b. 1868 d. 1963

Sociologist, civil rights campaigner, historian, Harvard graduate, anti-war activist, academic, essayist, novelist, communist and, of course, poet, W.E.B. DuBois was passionately committed to...
Jane Duran

Jane Duran

b. 1944

Jane Duran (b. 1944) is a writer whose work is often preoccupied with memory and exile. Born in Cuba, she grew up in the USA and Chile, the daughter of an American mother and a Spanish father who met...
T. S. Eliot

T. S. Eliot

b. 1888 d. 1965

T. S. Eliot (1888-1965) as a poet and critic came to define the modernist movement and still dominates the literary landscape of the last century. He was born in St. Louis, Missouri to a prominent...
Ruth Fainlight

Ruth Fainlight

b. 1931

Ruth Fainlight (b. New York, 1931) is an award-winning poet and translator, whose collections, starting with Cages in 1966, have spanned five decades. Her 1976 collection Another Full Moon was...
Carolyn Forché

Carolyn Forché

b. 1950

Carolyn Forché was born in Detroit in 1950, her mother was a Czech-American journalist, her father a tool and die maker. Forché calls herself a 'junk-heap Catholic' - she is perpetually drawn to...
Robert Frost

Robert Frost

b. 1874 d. 1963

Robert Lee Frost, named after the Confederate general, was born in 1874 in California, nine years after the end of the Civil War. His father was an unsuccessful politician and a severe and humourless...
Allen Ginsberg

Allen Ginsberg

b. 1926 d. 1997

Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997) is cherished as the pivotal figure between the 50s Beat Generation and the counter-cultural revolution of the 1960s. He was born in Newark, New Jersey the son of a high...
Linda Gregg

Linda Gregg

b. 1951

Linda Gregg [b. 1951], though born in New York, grew up in the woods of Marin County, California, the first of many landscapes that were to influence her work. She attended San Francisco State...
Thom Gunn

Thom Gunn

b. 1929 d. 2004

Thom Gunn (1929-2004) is a poet whose work thrives on contrast and contradiction: English tradition and American idiom; strict form and free verse; intellectual discipline and physical hedonism are...
Marilyn Hacker

Marilyn Hacker

b. 1942

Marilyn Hacker (b. 1942) is a poet whose work combines the political and the personal, the traditional and the radical, to startling effect. She is a New Yorker, born in the Bronx to Jewish parents...
Robert Hass

Robert Hass

b. 1941

Robert Hass (b. 1941) is a native of California, specifically San Francisco, and the twin influences of the city's cultural life and the lush landscape around it are both evident in his work. It was...
Jane Hirshfield

Jane Hirshfield

b. 1953

Jane Hirshfield (b. 1953, USA) is the author of six books of poetry, several translations and two collections of essays. Her most recent volume After, on being published in both the US and UK, was...
Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes

b. 1902 d. 1967

Langston Hughes (1902-1967) was the first black writer in America to earn his living from writing. Born in Joplin, Missouri, he had a migratory childhood following his parents' separation, spending...
Rodney Jones

Rodney Jones

b. 1950

Rodney Jones (b. 1950), born half way through the twentieth century, grew up in rural Alabama in a world little changed from that of a hundred years before. It was a world he describes as "...
Galway Kinnell

Galway Kinnell

b. 1927 d. 2014

Galway Kinnell (1927 - 2014) grew up in Pawtucket, Rhode Island and was educated at Princeton and Rochester University. He joined in the radical political movements of the 1960s, working for the...
August Kleinzahler

August Kleinzahler

b. 1949

August Kleinzahler has been described as 'an authentically American voice'. A review in the Economist of his fourth collection Red Sauce, Whiskey, and Snow said: "[the poems] twitch and jerk and snap...
Yusef Komunyakaa

Yusef Komunyakaa

b. 1947

Yusef Komunyakaa was born in 1947 in the quiet mill town of Bogalusa, Louisiana. Son of a carpenter he was raised in a house of few books at the beginning of the civil rights movement. His...
Ted Kooser

Ted Kooser

b. 1939

Ted Kooser (b. 1939) is one of America's most highly regarded poets, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 2005 for his eleventh collection, Delights and Shadows, and US Poet Laureate from 2004-06. However...
Maxine Kumin

Maxine Kumin

b. 1925

Maxine Kumin (b.1925) came to prominence as one of a generation of women poets who extended the boundaries of poetry, addressing areas of female experience which had not previously been written about...
Stanley Kunitz

Stanley Kunitz

b. 1905 d. 2006

Stanley Kunitz [1905-2006] is a towering figure in American poetry, not just by dint of his longevity, but for the fact that he was still producing some of his finest work well into his nineties. His...
Li-Young Lee

Li-Young Lee

b. 1957

Li-Young Lee (b. 1957) draws on his Chinese-American heritage in his poems, in particular his early experience of exile and migration. He was born in Jakarta, Indonesia, the son of Chinese parents...
Philip Levine

Philip Levine

b. 1934

The son of Russian-Jewish immigrants, Philip Levine grew up in industrial Detroit during the Great Depression of the 1930s. In The Bread of Time: Toward an Autobiography Levine deals with his...
Amy Lowell

Amy Lowell

b. 1874 d. 1925

Amy Lowell was born into an affluent Massachusetts family and educated at home and in private schools in Boston. Her financial resources helped her develop a liberated and unconventional lifestyle....
J D McClatchy

J D McClatchy

b. 1945

J D McClatchy (b. 1945) is one of America's foremost poet-critics. His five collections of poetry, including the Pulitzer Prize-shortlisted Hazmat, are widely acclaimed for their formal ingenuity,...
Heather McHugh

Heather McHugh

b. 1948

Heather McHugh (b. 1948) was brought up in rural Virginia. She credits her early overwhelming shyness with inspiring, somewhat paradoxically, an intense pleasure in language: her reluctance to speak...
Samuel Menashe

Samuel Menashe

b. 1925 d. 2011

Samuel Menashe (1925 - 2011) enlisted in 1943, and was sent to the Infantry School in Fort Benning, Georgia, then to England (Cheshire) for further training. His division fought in France, Belgium (...

WS Merwin

b. 1927

In 2009, WS Merwin won the Pulizer Prize for poetry for the second time, with The Shadow of Sirius. In an interview soon afterward, Merwin recalls his earliest observations about poetry: "The idea of...
John Montague

John Montague

b. 1929

John Montague (b.1929, New York), the author of many books of poetry, stories, memoirs and essays, has been called "the greatest Irish poet of his generation" by Derek Mahon. Born to Irish parents in...
Howard Nemerov

Howard Nemerov

b. 1920 d. 1991

Howard Nemerov was born into a wealthy and sophisticated New York family in 1920. His sister was the photographer Diane Arbus, and as children their father who was a painter, art connoisseur and...
Robert Pinsky

Robert Pinsky

b. 1940

Robert Pinsky (b. 1940) is a pre-eminent poet and critic, a dual role that has led to comparisons with figures from the past such as Matthew Arnold and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. His beginnings were...
Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath

b. 1932 d. 1963

Sylvia Plath (1932-1963) is a poet whose troubled life and powerful work remains a source of controversy. Born in Boston in the USA she was precociously intelligent, publishing her first poem at the...
Ezra Pound

Ezra Pound

b. 1885 d. 1972

Ezra Pound (1885-1972) is now recognised as the central figure of Anglo/American modernism, the man who did most to shape the movement which in turn did most to shape the 20th Century cultural...
Adrienne Rich

Adrienne Rich

b. 1929 d. 2012

Adrienne Rich (1929 - 2012) was one of the USA's foremost poets, and her poetry's intelligent and outspoken political commitment makes her one of the most provocative. She was awarded, among others,...
Theodore Roethke

Theodore Roethke

b. 1908 d. 1963

Theodore Roethke (1908-1963) was an innovator, both in subject matter and form, writing in the transcendental tradition of Emerson and Thoreau but making it his own. The key to his powerful...
Kay Ryan

Kay Ryan

b. 1945

Kay Ryan has been compared to Emily Dickinson and Marianne Moore, sharing a delight in the quirks of logic and language. Because she keeps a low profile, she has been called an 'outsider' poet, a...
Anne Sexton

Anne Sexton

b. 1928 d. 1974

Anne Sexton (1928-1974) is often grouped with such poets as Sylvia Plath, John Berryman and Robert Lowell as a leading figure in the so-called 'Confessional Movement'. Born Anne Gray Harvey in Newton...
Charles Simic

Charles Simic

b. 1938

Charles Simic (b. 1938) grew up in Belgrade in former Yugoslavia, a childhood in which "Hitler and Stalin taught us the basics". A new life began in 1954 when he and his mother were allowed to join...
Gerald Stern

Gerald Stern

b. 1925

Son of Eastern European Jewish immigrants, Gerald Stern grew up in Pittsburgh, in a house with no books. It wasn't as if being a writer was discouraged, he says, it just wasn't considered something...
Mark Strand

Mark Strand

b. 1934 d. 2014

Mark Strand was born in 1934 on Prince Edward Island, Canada and grew up in the United States. He was a shy dreamy child, and claims not to have been very bright at school. When he was a year old,...
Allen Tate

Allen Tate

b. 1899 d. 1979

Youngest of three sons, Allen Tate was born in Kentucky in 1899. His father was a businessman whose interests forced the family to move home up to three times a year, prompting Tate to later write: "...
Frederick Tuckerman

Frederick Tuckerman

b. 1821 d. 1873

Tuckerman’s beloved wife died in childbirth, and a powerful sense of grief and loss permeates many of his poems. He was a poet of the outdoors, spending much time wandering through the woods and...
Jean Valentine

Jean Valentine

b. 1934

Jean Valentine was born in 1934 in Chicago, Illinois and has lived most of her life in New York City. In 1964, her first collection Dream Barker was chosen for the Yale Series of Younger Poets. Her...
David Wagoner

David Wagoner

b. 1926

David Wagoner is widely regarded as the leading poet of the Pacific Northwest. He was born in Ohio and grew up in Indiana, where his mother, a trained opera singer, sang German lieder around the...
Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman

b. 1819 d. 1892

At various times, Walt Whitman was a teacher, a journalist, a government official and a clerk. He also spent a significant period in his life working in the hospitals of the American Civil War, and...
Richard Wilbur

Richard Wilbur

b. 1921

Richard Wilbur (b. 1921, New York) is perhaps best known as the second person to hold the position of US Poet Laureate (1987-88), and is also the recipient of laurels including the Pulitzer Prize,...
C K Williams

C. K. Williams

b. 1939 d. 2015

C. K. Williams (b. 1939) was particularly well-known for his formal innovations, the long-lined poems of clause-rich syntax which became his trademark. Born in Newark, New Jersey, Williams described...
William Carlos Williams

William Carlos Williams

b. 1883 d. 1963

William Carlos Williams (1883-1963) famously combined the two careers of doctor and writer, along the way founding a specifically American version of Modernism. He was born in Rutherford, New Jersey...
Yvor Winters

Yvor Winters

b. 1900 d. 1968

Yvor Winters (b. 1900) was notorious in his lifetime for his recalcitrant literary criticism which rejected modernism in favour of reason in poetry. His own poetry, after a youthful dalliance with...
Charles Wright

Charles Wright

b. 1935

Charles Wright [b. 1935] is a poet whose work "catches the visible world at that endless moment before it trails into eternity" [Philip Levine]. This search for transcendence has sustained his long...

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A tour of the Archive with Sherrie Talgeri

Poetry is life with line-breaks – a personal matter – and I hope that this six poem mixtape I’ve chosen will...

Featured Guided Tours


Enjoy new recordings of classic poems from the past read by contemporary poets

In Memoriam CXV

Alfred Tennyson

read by Andrew Motion

Returning, We Hear the...

Isaac Rosenberg

read by Andrew Motion